Summary and Conclusions
In this paper we used the idea of the main path analysis to test our understanding of the development of a novel treatment for coronary artery disease. This technique has previously been proven to be useful in understanding the development of DNA theory conflict resolution research and the growth of the social network literature. Carley et al. (1993: 444) observed that the main path mapped the intellectual influences and cross fertilisations that are important to cumulative scientific process. They further noted that technique the main path when combined with historical analysis provides a rich and detailed understanding of a historical period because while historical analysis has the advantage of locating and describing institutional context, tools of structural analysis such as the main path has the advantage of controlling for the powerful influence of institutional contexts.
We believe that the application of main path analysis to the area of innovation research allows us to discover an interesting dynamic. While out main path map represents a highly synthetic quantitative summary of the evolution of this medical community, it is also provides firm evidence of the flux within the community as the new method for combating the debilitating effects of severe coronary artery disease was introduced. Our results lend credence to the notion that medical innovation is driven by the idea of a problem sequence and that this is the central concept around which we can build an understanding of how innovation processes are instituted. Innovations as we have expressed previously are rarely if ever uniquely circumscribed events and outcomes. From the analysis above we clearly observe that as problems were solved, extending the range of application and improving practice, new problems would be defined requiring further exploration of the broad cardiology search space in the search for new solutions. Thus we can account for what we described earlier as phases of exploration and consolidation and show the development overtime of the network of relevant scientific contributions.
The findings here also speak to the literature on learning in general (March 1994). The method applied here clearly captures both exploration and exploitation observed over the last 25 years in the development of PTCA. This particular case study also extends the literature in its treatment of the scope of where learning is observed. Previously, learning is to be understood as an individual and, more recently, organisational phenomenon (Argyris, C. & Schön, D. 1978, March & Olsen 1975). One important feature of these subjects (individual or organisations) is the presence or availability of an overarching cognitive guide or director. Here we see that among independent groups of scientific researchers, the phenomenon of learning is also observed. In a sense there is a self-organising mechanism that is taking place at the community level without the presence of a cognitive guide/director.